15th May 2021

Nato states continue to squabble on Libya command

  • Nato ambassadors will reconvene on Thursday (Photo: Nato)

A third attempt by Nato to agree who should be in charge of air strikes on Libya has ended inconclusively amid growing discontent from Turkey.

Nato ambassadors will re-convene in Brussels on Thursday (24 March) for a fourth day of attempts to bridge divisions inside the alliance. The subject is also set to come up at a dinner of EU leaders the same evening.

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France, which has taken the political lead on the anti-Gaddafi war effort up to now, wants the body to play a supporting role to a new "contact group" composed of ministers from countries involved in the military campaign and regional players.

UK foreign minister William Hague is to host the first meeting of the group in London on 29 March to "take stock" of operations so far.

The participation of Arab League and African Union members in the club "clearly shows the political leadership of this operation is not in the hands of Nato, but of the contact group" French foreign minister Alain Juppe said.

The US is keen to hand over the hot potato of Operation Odyssey Dawn command to Nato as soon as possible. Italy has also urged Nato to take the lead.

Turkey, which is keen to maintain good relations with its Muslim neighbours as well as its EU and Nato allies, has said the transatlantic body should only take over if it imposes strict limits on the air strikes in the light of civilian casualties.

Speaking in Ankara on Wednesday, Turkish President Abdullah Gul questioned the motives of fellow Nato countries. He did not name names but alluded to France and Italy, which until earlier this year had intimate relations with dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

"The issue is essentially about people's freedom and ending oppression... but unfortunately it is obvious that some countries are driven by opportunism," he said, the BBC reports. "Some who until yesterday were closest to the dictators ... display an excessive behaviour today and raise suspicions of secret intentions.

Germany, which has flip-flopped on its support for the coalition strikes, has meanwhile decided to boost troops and air surveillance missions in Afghanistan to help the alliance take on Gaddafi.

"This will alleviate our allies in their Libyan mission," foreign minister Guido Westerwelle told parliament.

Coalition forces continued to strike Libyan targets for the fifth night in a row on Wednesday.

Nato has also sent 16 ships and submarines, including six from Turkey, to do the less controversial work of enforcing an arms embargo against Gaddafi.

US military said Gaddafi's airforce in the north of the country has been completely destroyed and that it is now moving to attack his tanks.

French defence minister Gerard Longuet said France had destroyed about 10 Libyan armoured vehicles over the past three days.

Despite the airstrikes, Gaddafi's ground forces made advances and continued attacks on rebels in several locations including the towns of Misurata, Ajdabiya and Zintan.

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